Matched by Ally Condie: Cassia trusts the Society to make good decisions for her: what to eat, what to read, how to care for herself and who, ultimately, she should love and marry. When the Society matches her with Xander, a childhood friend, she's sure that he is her ideal match. She feels lucky to know her Match. Later, she attempts to learn more about Xander, and instead of seeing his face on her screen she sees the face of Ky Markham, a boy on the edges of her social group. The Society tells her this is an isolated incident, a breakdown in the system, and to focus on her future with Xander. Unfortunately, spurred on by doubts laid by her grandfather and her own curiosity about Ky, Cassia can't help but wonder about paths she might take without the Society to guide her way. She can't help but wonder about a future, not with Xander, but with Ky. She can't help but wonder about a future with the luxury of choice.
The farther away from this story I get, the more I am torn. There should be a word for a book that is both predictable and pedestrian, and yet somehow still compelling. I picked it up on a whim at the library when they didn't have Under the Never Sky (HEARTBREAKING), remembering that there was some kerfuffle about it and some other similar book, plus that it had sold for some ridiculous amount of money and I wanted to know what in the world publishers were throwing their money at these days.
I said to a friend after I finished that it was like buying a bag of chips and not dividing them into servings as soon as you unloaded the bag from the rest of the groceries. You take the bag to the couch and a episode of Roswell/X-Files later the bag is almost empty. Or, this:
Also, the marketing for this book attempts to ram the love triangle down your throat, but it's a very tired, droopy triangle, one side leaking off. A few chapters into this book we entered scalene triangle territory and there was no going back. Yay for me! Peace out, geometry, no one wanted you, anyway.
I feel like Ana and Jodie are already palming some faces; theirs, those close to them because their skin is all palmed out. They're saying, "Renay, you HATE love triangles! Why do you try so hard to punish yourself?" Answer: because I keep hoping that one of these days I will stumble across an awesome one and it will be great! This one is less offensive than others because it wasn't actually a love triangle, it just happened to include one poor sod who is going to inevitably get tossed over to ramp up the dramatic tension (spoiler: this fails).
Speaking of dramatic tension, do you ever get the feeling that with some books all the life and verve has been edited out of the prose? That is, if it was ever really there at all? There are words, they're forming sentences, they're saying a thing and zZZZZZzzz. It's true that you're not going to like every writer's style. For instance, Ally Condie and I are never going to be writing buddies because I'd break out the rainbow highlighters all over her exhaustively boring prose shouting (while wielding a red sharpie) about verve and narrative and flow and "did you try reading this out loud? At all? Ever?" Excuse me, I'm going to go continue reading Avengers fanfic, where at least the writing doesn't send me spiraling into a coma (thank the stars for niche market fanwriters). On one hand, thematically this lifeless prose is reflecting the Society at large and Cassia's life up until the point we meet her and join her struggle. It's functional and it's doing a job, but it continually got in my way. I get it, prose, you're a soulless shell of the former glory of a world where writing about emotions was squashed, because when people feel too much they can't be kept down because they are determined to find more feelings and endorphins. I got it. I'm 3/4 through the book! I understand, I promise, can you please, please get up? Or at least stop imitating Ben Stein?
I spent most of my time with the book arguing with it. Who's surprised?
Concerning writing in general rather than writing in the book, the beginning of the story centers around a poem by Dylan Thomas. I love metafiction and authors who find a way to seamlessly integrate a piece of literature into a story; hello, I read John Green. However, I found the use of literature in this story so forced and awkward that by the end of the book I was embarrassed. It is hard for books to hit my embarrassment trigger — this book provided a roundhouse kick to the face. It wasn't subtle, it was heavy-handed, and it was humiliating. The less said about the way the poem was used — or in my opinion, badly used to lend gravitas and meaning to a book and a world empty of those things — the better. Thanks for treating me like a moron, narrative. You're off my buddy list.
Let's have a moment of silence for Dylan Thomas.
I don't read a lot of dystopias and I am not learned in the canon of them in any thorough ways (recommendations welcome!). I read We by Yevgeny Zamyatin in 2003, I read The Giver by Lois Lowry late in life (as I tend to read everything 15 years later than the culture says I should). I liked those well enough, although The Giver was a little bit better for me because I lacked the historical context of Russian history I needed to make We as truly frightening as it so obviously was at the time. I haven't done the rounds in dystopia. It doesn't help that recently the line between dystopia, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic have blurred dramatically, for example, some enterprising author created a flowchart to helpfully define which is which.
It might be that I am simply not a fan of them, or haven't read the right ones to know what pieces make up the best kind of dystopia. But as a dystopia, Matched had no teeth — at least not the kind I'm used to with my schooling in this type of literature. Consequences were vague, the Society a nebulous enemy that never felt threatening at all beyond their power to make people swallow some pills or do terrible physical labor. It felt like with one strong push the people could knock it all over. It was flimsy. The narrative argues that many people are unhappy, but they don't speak up because of fear. I finished this book confused over what exactly people were so afraid of and how the status quo of this society had maintained for so long. I never got it; the fear of a status change, the fear of being taken away? The Society was instilling fear but it remained so transparent as fear tactics that I failed to see why people were so utterly taken away by it.
The book may boast a dystopia and have all the elements of what a story needs to be classified as such, but otherwise i found it lifeless and the romance passionless. This book is very much about The First Book in a Series Of $20 Hardbacks. Matched is The Giver with puberty and illicit, illegal makeouts in the wilderness. I saw someone else (I can't remember who now) compare it, sort of aptly, to Fahrenheit 451. It's a dystopia quilt. With holes.
One thing that pinged me and that Jodie asked me about explicitly was the heterosexuality aspect. In this narrative, there's a rash of invisibility of any sexuality but heterosexual. Whether this was an oversight on the part of the author or the nature of the world I'm unclear on. Are these people Singles? Aberrations? On one hand, it feels realistic to have them erased and not mentioned because there are people (like me) who actively look for diversity (or the lack therefore) and will fill in the blanks in ways that forgive the text if it fails to include it. As readers, we actively use the world-building to build our own worlds using the canon, or textual, evidence. In the lack of information, we patch the holes. In other words, we give stories a free pass. I almost gave Matched a free pass on the absence of diverse sexuality by chalking it up to the nature of the dystopia — the Society suppresses and erases non-traditional sexualities and wow, isn't that horrible?
Then I stopped to consider whether this was fair and asked myself the question: what if the Society didn't erase it because it's not part of the author's worldview? Cassia's narrative doesn't address it and it doesn't appear in the text even with a simple section of world-building, coded implicitly if not explicitly — does that mean the author had greater plans later on or simply erased all sexualities other than heterosexual in the creation of this story? In a book about matching two people for life, it seems like it would come up and because it doesn't, the red flags go up and start dancing frantically. Of all these breakdowns Cassia begins to see in a story about love and companionship and lifelong partners, this seems to oddest thing to leave out. It feels like missing out on a huge chance to make the world even more chilling, since the main relationships in Cassia's life are portrayed eventually as complicated but still supportive. I remain suspicious.
Which brings us to the end. I disliked the TO BE CONTINUED vibe (yes, it requires capslock, this is a thing) because it was so anti-climatic. Looking back at the last book I read with a solid TO BE CONTINUED takes me to The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. This ending was frustrating and aggravating and lakfjaljskljasd Patrick Ness, you fiend. But it was in a good way. It owned itself and went forward with the knowledge that the story wasn't done and yes, you were going to have to wait for it, sucker. I found it fantastic. Matched felt like the story could have restructured and gone on a bit, but said "screw this", hit the snooze button and rolled over, because it knew it could. After all, the Second Book will clean up its mess, so why not grab an extra nap? It felt lazy or unsure of itself, like it wasn't positive it was good enough to get to go on, so time to vague it up in case that Second Book flaked out. Author and publisher, I do not understand your choice. I shouldn't want to rewrite the ending of the book to be more exciting and have about ten different ideas for doing so. /o\ It's a trilogy! Own it!
After reflecting for a few weeks, I finally came to a conclusion. You know whose story I really wanted to read after finishing this book? Cassia's mother, Molly. Her story carries on in the background of Cassia's realizations and disappointments about her life and her government, a supportive mother and wife but most-importantly, a rule-abiding member of Society. She goes on several mysterious trips and her struggle is just as interesting, if not more so, than Cassia's because of the hints laid about her work and the huge swathes of the world she sees. We only glimpse her journey and troubles in snatches and we slowly come to learn how the choices she makes impact many, many people. The power she wields is fascinating and there's simply not enough of it.
Yet another depressing entry in Impossible Things Renay Wants.
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